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Justice Dept. appears poised to crack down on marijuana crimes

Over the past decade, the tide on marijuana seemed to turn. Over half of U.S. states, including Arizona, have legalized the drug for at least medical purposes. Eight states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized it for recreational use.

In support and recognition of that trend, Congress passed an amendment to the Justice Department's budget preventing the agency from interfering with state laws that "authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." Under President Obama, federal prosecutors were urged to limit their use of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, low-level marijuana offenders. They were also ordered to limit their use of civil forfeiture.

It appears that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is about to turn back that tide. As head of the presidential Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which is aimed at reducing violent crime, Sessions has indicated that marijuana is one of his top targets.

In an April memo, Sessions said that task force members were to review current policies around "charging, sentencing, and marijuana" to determine whether they are consistent with overall Justice Department strategies on reducing violent crime and promoting other Trump Administration policies.

How is marijuana policy related to the reduction of violent crime?

That's not clear. What we do know comes from the head of the Brennan Center's Justice Program.

"The task force revolves around reducing violent crime and Sessions and other DOJ officials have been out there over the last month and explicitly the last couple of weeks talking about how immigration and marijuana increases violent crime," he told The Hill.

Advocates with the Brennan Center program are concerned that the task force recommendations will be influenced by the assumption that immigrants and marijuana users are in some way responsible for violent crime.

Yet law enforcement doesn't see that on the ground, according to the co-chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

"From a practitioner's point of view, marijuana is not a drug that doesn't have some danger to it, but it's not the drug that's driving violent crime in America," he said. "That's not the drug with which we see so much death and destruction on the streets of America."

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